By Blythe Copeland, TreeHugger
The same geothermal heat that can help you reduce your electricity bill is responsible for some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders: Hot springs.
When hot water bubbles up through the Earth’s crust, the resulting pools are soothing, mineral-rich springs that have been used for medical, therapeutic, and spa treatments for centuries — and also leave behind minerals and sediment that create dazzling landscapes.
Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
Yellowstone‘s Grand Prismatic Spring, at 370 feet across, is the third-largest hot spring in the world, and the biggest in the United States (the other two are in New Zealand); the temperature ranges between 147 and 188 degrees Fahrenheit. The location of the spring — atop a mound of earth — means it’s surrounded by stepped terraces, and the spring gets its color from a variety of factors: The blue water changes pales as the depth changes, the green outer ring is algae, and the yellow, red, and orange are the borders of the spring.
Iron Hot Spring
The steam from this natural iron hot spring (the iron is what makes the water red) in Japan creates an otherworldly background for the traditional bonsai tree in the foreground. Hot springs are a common site in Japan, where they “bubble up everywhere,” according to the country’s tourism board — the country has more than 2,500 of the springs, which measure somewhere between 68 and 211 degrees Fahrenheit — and they’re a social activity that’s believed to have health benefits ranging from improving skin to battling aches and pains.
Image credit: TANAKA Juuyoh / Flickr
New Zealand Hot Springs
New Zealand‘s rocky landscape and placement on the volcanic ridge makes it one of the best places in the world for testing out hot springs — especially near Lake Taupo. Other popular spots include Hot Water Beach, where the springs bubble up from below the sand; Waiwera, where the springs were popularized for their reported health benefits in the late 1800s; and Hanmer Springs, on the South Island, where a planned addition would expand the springs with a waterslide, ice skating rink, and freshwater swimming pool. (Above: Champagne Pool)
Bumpass Hell, California
“Bumpass Hell” may not sound like a very tempting spot for a vacation, but these springs — part of the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California — are home to some of the most striking landscapes in the Northwest.Go West USA describes the hot springs as a “sulfuric, alien world” created by a volcano that erupted at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, a three-mile hike lets you get up close and personal with the steam flumes, vents, and hot springs.
Iceland is a country well-known for its thermal hot springs, and Deildartunguhver, near Husafell, is the largest, with temperatures rising to more then 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The spring is home to a specific type of fern, called blechnun spicant, that doesn’t grow anywhere else in the country, and nearby towns use some of the steam as an alternative energy source to run their heating systems.
Image credit: Wiki Commons
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is another famous hot spring, and a favorite of tourists, who travel there for the “geothermal spa” experience. Water temperatures in the six million liter lagoon range from 98-102 degrees Farenheit, and the minerals released into the water from the interaction between hot seawater and cooler rocks has devotees swearing to the medical and healing properties of the springs.
Image credit: goodmami / Flickr
The Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs — located in Yellowstone Park — is another one of the United States’ most jaw-dropping hot springs.The ridges are created by deposits of travertine, a type of limestone, which have at times been so dramatic that they covered up walkways around the springs. The park has since created an “elevated and moveable boardwalk” to give visitors a clear view of the terraces.
Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Japan
Japanese residents and tourists aren’t the only ones who take advantage of the benefits of the therapeutic hot springs: at Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, one of the main attractions is Jigokudani Monkey Park, where snow monkeys bathe and play in the waters. The monkeys — Japanese macaques — spend their summers on the cliffs and in the forests of the park, and then travel down to the warm baths to spend their winter days in the steamy hot springs.
Image credit: Wajimacallit / Flickr
Hungary’s Lake Heviz is a slightly different kind of thermal water: Here, nearby springs that produce water of about 100 degrees Farenheit meet up and flow into the lake, which is surrounded by 150 acres of protected land. The building in the center of the lake has offered medicinal and spa treatments developed around the mineral-rich waters for more than 100 years, although some residents claim that communities dating as far back as ancient Rome were also fans of the lake’s healing properties.
Image credit: Wiki Commons
The hot spring-heavy town of Thermopolis, Wyoming, gets its name from the Greek words for “hot city,” and, since a treaty with local tribes in 1896, it’s been one of the biggest mineral hot springs open to the public. Today, visitors can soak in the pools, take advantage of watersides and the bath house, walk across a swinging bridge for an overhead view of the landscape, and check out the multicolored “Rainbow Terraces.”
Image credit: Wiki Commons